The pot calls the ket­tle black

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

What can you say about the reck­less driver of a Hum­mer who honks his horn in­ces­santly, even to the point of chas­ing pedes­tri­ans cross­ing at a cross­walk, com­plain­ing about oth­ers’ bad driv­ing habits? What can you say about a chain smoker who com­plains about some­one else light­ing up nearby? Hyp­o­crit­i­cal! Ridicu­lous!

“Get out ofmy way. Don’t do as I do, do as I say,” is the ar­ro­gant mes­sage that comes through.

The United States is the world leader in elec­tronic spy­ing and in­fil­tra­tion of com­put­ers. This makes the US govern­ment the world’s big­gest hacker, bar none. So it is more than a bit hyp­o­crit­i­cal, if not bor­der­line hu­mor­ous, to hear US At­tor­ney Gen­eral EricHolder ac­cuse a ri­val of do­ing some­thing the US does more ex­ten­sively, more in­tru­sively and more stealth­ily.

Were it not for Ed­ward Snow­den’s rev­e­la­tions of theNa­tional Se­cu­rity Agency’s abuse last year, the aver­age Amer­i­can could con­tinue to en­joy the delu­sion that the mighty demo­cratic govern­ment sup­ported by the sweat and blood of their taxes, and wars on var­i­ous fronts, was a force for hon­esty, truth and trans­parency in a mud­died and mud­dled world. But the un­com­fort­able truth all Amer­i­cans have to coun­te­nance is this: a na­tion founded on no­ble ideals that was once a world leader in the pro­mo­tion of democ­racy has be­come its own neme­sis, en­gaged in end­less wars (bul­lets in­stead of bal­lots) and end­less spy­ing.

The NSA scoops up an as­tro­nom­i­cal num­ber of pri­vate com­mu­ni­ca­tions, per­sonal pho­to­graphs, re­veal­ing links to in­ti­mate friends, shop­ping habits, tastes, travel pat­terns and re­mote key­stroke in­put ev­ery minute of the day, a form of in­for­ma­tion vi­o­la­tion and theft that is eas­ily equiv­a­lent in terms of vol­ume and in­tru­sive­ness to rip­ping open ev­ery let­ter ever writ­ten in the his­tory of the writ­ten word.

This is a shock­ing de­vel­op­ment in a coun­try that only re­cently barred the re­lease of li­brary records on the rea­son­able as­sump­tion that know­ing what books a per­son was read­ing re­vealed some­thing pri­vate about him/her. Whither Amer­ica that dared to act as it preached, in ac­cord with its en­light­ened con­sti­tu­tion?

It is hard to see Un­cle Sam’s lat­est fin­ger wag­ging in the name of cy­ber supremacy as any­thing but a re­flex­ive broad­side at China, but for what pur­pose? It’s no slam dunk in diplo­matic terms, but rather a gra­tu­itous slap in the face. What is con­tro­ver­sialHolder, no friend of civil rights, pri­vacy or govern­ment ac­count­abil­ity, try­ing to achieve?

Hu­mil­i­at­ing ri­vals is a game played well that plays well in the Belt­way, but given the gen­eral so­phis­ti­ca­tion of US me­dia pro­duc­tion and tech­nique, it’s rather sur­pris­ing that the Barack Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion keeps scor­ing own goals by ac­cus­ing oth­ers of do­ing what it does even bet­ter.

TheUS was never the demo­cratic paragon it prides it­self to be, but it has seen bet­ter days. Civil lib­er­ties, pri­vacy and ac­count­abil­ity were not al­ways tram­pled on by a top-down se­cu­rity state en­forc­ing the stric­tures of an un­equal so­ci­ety, as is the case to­day. Why even for­merUS pres­i­dent Richard Nixon, vil­i­fied for hisWater­gate oper­a­tion of spy­ing on do­mes­tic ri­vals, did not pre­side over so vast and Or­wellian an in­for­ma­tion-col­lect­ing ma­chine as Obama has at his fin­ger­tips.

It’s noth­ing short of au­da­cious to pre­tend to be guard­ing cy­ber ci­vil­ity while giv­ing the NSA foxes a blank check and the run of the in­for­ma­tion hen house.

In diplo­matic terms, it’s a non-starter, if not a provo­ca­tion. Crit­i­ciz­ing China, like any coun­try, has its place in in­ter­na­tional dis­course. But bash­ing China re­peat­edly and point­lessly is un­der­lined by a bor­der­line kind of race bait­ing, be­cause China is fre­quently cast as a ne­far­i­ous and in­scrutable ri­val. Stok­ing fear about the un­known in­ten­tions of a poorly un­der­stood ri­val is a ColdWar ma­nip­u­la­tion tac­tic that the US seems in­ca­pable of shak­ing.

Holder’s ploy may be a play to a do­mes­tic au­di­ence, says Dou­glas Paal, of the Carnegie In­sti­tute. He adds that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is try­ing to show it is not as “feck­less” as it has ev­ery ap­pear­ance of be­ing.

Paal’s in­sight sug­gests that tak­ing WhiteHouse spin at face value is to be spun. WhatHolder may be say­ing is not re­ally about spy­ing; it’s not even about China, re­ally. What it’s about is an inept ad­min­is­tra­tion pre­tend­ing to be do­ing some­thing while do­ing noth­ing. It’s pre­tend­ing that the Obama team is bet­ter at strat­egy than pho­toops, which sadly doesn’t seem to be the case.

When you hear the pot call­ing the ket­tle black, it’s prob­a­bly time to clean up the kitchen which is slip­pery from all the grease and slick spin.

Tongue-tied US govern­ment spokes­men strug­gle to ex­plain why an al­leged case of Chi­nese hack­ing is dif­fer­ent from the US hack­ing other coun­tries. The spin of the mo­ment is to say that the US does not spy for eco­nomic ben­e­fit, though there is doc­u­mented ev­i­dence to the con­trary. Even if it were true, which it is not, the distinc­tion is a spu­ri­ous one. In fact, it would be re­as­sur­ing if the US only spied for eco­nomic ben­e­fit, and got out of people’s bed­rooms and pri­vate phone con­ver­sa­tions. TheNSA spies on ev­ery­thing un­der the sun, and that in­cludes eco­nomic in­for­ma­tion.

Won­ton in­for­ma­tion greed and un­wanted in­tru­sions can­not be ex­on­er­ated merely by plead­ing a lack of ob­vi­ous eco­nomic ben­e­fit. Coun­tries are not al­ways ra­tio­nal eco­nom­i­cally; dur­ingWorldWar II the Axis pow­ers plun­dered their neigh­bors and de­scended into ut­ter eco­nomic ruin for no good rea­son but the twisted pur­suit of power. The au­thor is a me­dia re­searcher cov­er­ing Asian pol­i­tics.

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